Dickens of a debate

September 11, 2008

While I agree with some of the sentiments Jonathan Taylor expressed about not colonising the past with our current preoccupations ("Progressively benighted", 14 August), I have to take issue with his comments on Dickens. Dickens was made aware in a lively exchange of correspondence that his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist was racist.

Eliza Davis, the wife of a Jewish banker who bought Dickens' house in Bloomsbury, wrote to tell him so. The letters dated 1863 to 1867 are held in the University College London Library Services' Special Collections and show a growing respect on both sides. Although Dickens denied the charge, he revised some of the wording in subsequent editions of Oliver Twist and provided a rather more sympathetic portrait of a Jew in Our Mutual Friend.

Elizabeth A. Chapman, Deputy director, UCL Library Services.

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